European Commission’s threats against Poland turn into a PR disaster

guenther-oettinger-einAs we  predicted already some weeks ago, liberal media and some politicians are currently running a campaign against the new Polish government, alleging violations of the Rule of Law principle and other EU core values.

The newest episode in this saga is an interview by Commissioner Günther Oettinger, responsible for the “information society” portfolio, in which he criticises the Polish government’s projects for a reform of the public broadcasting company and calls for the European Commission to place Poland under special surveillance, i.e. to trigger a procedure that might ultimately lead to a temporary suspension of Poland’s voting rights under the EU treaty. As one reads, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has put this possible sanction mechanism on the agenda for the Commission’s weekly meeting on 13 January.

If Oettinger’s interview is intended as a kite-flying exercise to see how the public might react, then the Commission would be well advised to take note of the comments made by readers of various news outlets on the internet. No, we are not speculating about the possible reactions of Polish citizens, who – as we all know – have a very strong sense of national pride and therefore are rather unlikely to be happy at being lectured from abroad, even if many may have doubts about what their new government is doing. Instead, we suggest that Messrs. Oettinger and Juncker may want to take a closer look at the readers’ forum of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the renowned newspaper that first published Mr. Oettinger’s interview. At the time of writing this, there are 155 letters to the editor, of which less than five are supportive of launching a sanction mechanism against Poland, whereas all the others denounce the EU bureaucracy’s centralistic attitude, criticise Oettinger for meddling with the neighbour country’s internal affairs, and ask whether in other countries than Poland the managers of public broadcasting corporations are appointed by someone else than the respective country’s government, or selected on the basis of any other criteria than their political orientation. Many readers ask whether in the age of internet there still is a reason to have state-owned broadcasting corporations that are funded with taxpayers’ money or other types of coercive contributions. Others opine that the lack of media pluralism is a problem in Germany rather than in Poland, but that apparently the European Commission does not consider this to be a problem as long as the mainstream media think and write in line with what the government wants. FAZ Oettinger

Whoever believes that the readership of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is too conservative to be considered representative of the wider public might check out the readers’ forum of Der Spiegel, Germany’s leading news website, which is certainly not suspicious of attracting a reactionary or right-wing readership. But even there the criticism against the European Commission’s threats against Poland is nearly unanimous.

Spiegel Oettinger

The European Commission should be very careful about how it addressess alleged “Rule-of-Law” violations by Member States, given that it is itself widely perceived as elitist, unelected, and remote from even the faintest trace of a democratic mandate.